The Department of Home Affairs has said it will investigate after officials were filmed using their cellphones while on duty.
Video footage of two officials on their phones at the Tongaat office in KwaZulu-Natal was widely circulated on social media. In the video members of the public can be seen waiting to be helped.
Acting home affairs director general Thulani Mavuso has instructed the provincial manager for KwaZulu-Natal to visit the office and to conduct an urgent investigation.
Home affairs released a statement saying it had noted social media posts showing officials "seemingly" on their cellphones while on duty.
"The department's policy is quite clear on this matter. The use of cellular phones by front office officials while performing their duties is prohibited," Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele's spokesperson Siya Qoza said.
"Officials at front offices are trained to refrain from using such gadgets when they are supposed to be serving citizens and other clients."
Call for cellphone ban
The department said appropriate action, informed by the outcome of the investigation, would be taken.
"That may include subjecting the implicated officials to internal disciplinary processes," Qoza said.
The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Hlomani Chauke, has urged the department to consider an outright ban on cellphone usage by frontline staff during working hours at all home affairs offices.
This is due to numerous complaints the committee has received from the public about delays at home affairs offices.
"It is unacceptable that [members of] the public spend excessive amounts of time at home affairs offices, while officials spend a disproportionate amount of time busy with their cellphones," Chauke said.
"Officials are primarily employed to offer a service and the complaints point to dereliction of duty by some officials, yet they continue to draw a salary at the end of the month."
The Public Servants Association of South Africa has slammed the call by the committee to ban the use of cellphones by frontline workers, labelling it "misplaced and ill-informed".